World’s Worst Writing Advice

There are a lot of people out there giving advice on how to write and that’s a great thing… BUUUUT sometimes it’s just so bad that it just makes me want to get a bit stabby with my pen on the page, scrawling something akin to “arghhhghdjsfg whyyyy”… Okay, I’m exaggerating- though it does physically pain me to see advice palmed out to the masses that is just plain WRONG. So today, I thought I’d share with you some of the *worst* writing advice I have ever seen doing the rounds and what you need to watch out for when it comes to guidance online (and elsewhere).

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Anything that begins “in the past people did x, now they don’t…”– okay, this isn’t something you should totally write off, because it’s good to know about differences of style and technique, however it does need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I recommend when you hear this, trying to come up with some examples of modern writers that practice the technique that supposedly no modern writers use. If you can’t think of an example, read more books!– partly because that’s the solution to all life’s problems, but also because I guarantee there are modern writers who have, say, used purple prose. Generally that’s the problem with generalisations– they don’t work all the time 😉 . Plus, the thing that’s important to note is that art is not a linear progression to what is “modern” or “good”. There is often a belief that art peaks/peaked at a certain point, yet in reality styles are always in flux and what’s in fashion is more fluid than you think.

Getting technical terms *wrong*– oh man, this is a killer for me. Honestly, if you notice someone’s using the wrong terminology, it’s probably time to switch off. Harsh, but true. For instance, I once saw someone saying “don’t start with exposition”- which is not terrible advice (even if it’s a total generalisation so not the best) then follow up with “because they did that in the past” (worst reason ever- see above) and then give the example of the first line in Pride and Prejudice. FYI that’s INCORRECT. The first line of Pride and Prejudice- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”- is an ironic aphorism. This is an inversion of exposition, because it’s setting up an idea in the same way you might introduce advice, only to undermine your expectations. In other words, Austen started with a joke- and if you don’t get that… well then, watch some stand-up, I certainly can’t help 😉 . To equate this with the exact opposite: “a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory” is completely incorrect and it’s time to find someone who knows what they’re talking about- capiche?

Giving shitty examples of bad writing– usually with “evidence” the individual has made up on the spot or from their own bad writing. It’s called straw-manning and it’s not the best way to prove a point. The main problem with this is that it’s easily undermined- especially since the other side to this issue is that the writer in question doesn’t balance out the argument with examples of the same technique done well. Edit: Heck- it’s just better to show *how* to do something than how not to do something (in art class, no teacher ever holds up a crap drawing and says “don’t do this”). I originally said all examples (good or bad) should be from a real life book- for obvious reasons it wouldn’t be a good idea to subjectively select “bad” writing from books. But if you are trying to show various techniques, books are a good place to start, which leads me onto…

“There are writers and then there are readers”– I’m not even joking, there are people who give this advice. The truth is if you’re a writer, you ought to be a reader. I have heard people say you need to put the books down at some point if you ever want to pick up a pen, because otherwise it’s too daunting and that’s good advice. However, if you don’t read at all, or read very little, how will you ever learn about what it’s like for a technique to totally work, or what’s been done before (/to death) or what people actually enjoy reading? For all the advice on the internet, there is no better writing education than cracking open an excellent book. (Hey- you know my feelings about books- what did you expect me to say about this one? No one insults books and gets away with it- least of all wannabe writers!)

And that just about wraps up my worst writing advice. Agree? Disagree? Do you have any bad writing advice to add to the pot? Let me know in the comments!

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The Obligatory Piece Where I Talk About Doing Nanowrimo… But Not Really

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Okay I know we’re already a bit into November so it’s a bit late to talk about my plans for Nano, but my organisation skills are the BOMB (okay, they suck, but whatever) As you might be able to tell I’m sort of doing Nano this year… Well I’m doing what I do most years- which is to set myself an easier target and write my little heart out 😉 . This year though, I did have a bit more of an internal wrestle over whether I should try and win Nano for reelz (spoiler alert: that’s not what I decided to do 😉 ). Here’s where my thought process was at…

Reasons to do Nano:

  • What a great month to write! I mean it’s miserable out and I want to be indoors as much as possible. Plus I’m not in uni anymore so I’ve not got the excuse of deadlines as I did in previous years.
  • I’ve got a ton of writing to do– so I may as well go bananas with it. I really want to finish my damn trilogy. I first conceived of this idea *7 whole years ago*. I was writing something else at that time and had lots of mishaps in between… but now I’m finally on book 3 (yay!)
  • All of the lovely motivational people online!! There’s just so many great writing posts about during Nano that I’m being totally conformist *ahem* I’m feeling inspired.
  • It’s very satisfying to set yourself a goal and then complete it– especially when it comes to writing!

Reasons not to do Nano:

  • Buuut I edit a lot as I go (I know *shock horror*- don’t worry, I edit after as well) so 50000 words is not really doable if I’m gonna end up writing a lot of it twice.
  • I’m fairly consistent with my writing, fortunately, BUT I’ve never written more than c20000 words in a month– more than that just doesn’t seem terribly doable to me.
  • Plus I *never* use word count goals– they just don’t work for me- I tend to count chapters instead
  • It can be completely draining to write this series– honestly, my characters do shitty things and living with the consequences of their actions can be pretty exhausting (yes, I talk about them like they’re real- I’m totally sane 😉 )
  • Doing a more casual version of Nano has worked for me in the past– last year for instance I decided to edit an old novel AND I DID IT! (which brings me back to how satisfying it is to complete a goal)

So I’m compromising!

My goal is to write to chapter 28- which considering I was already at chapter 9 before the month should be both doable and a challenge (also since this is the beginning of the book, I’ve a few nice, short set up chapters that I can whizz through- don’t think I didn’t know what I was doing when I set myself this target 😉 ) Currently, I’m on 16 and to be honest right now even this target might be a little out of reach- we’ll see how this goes!

Anyhoo- are any of you participating in Nano? Do you write in general? Let me know in the comments!

In Defence of Bad Parents in Books

No I don’t literally mean I’m defending bad parents in books (nothing makes me *rage* more than bad parents irl, so rest assured this is not a pro-abusive parents post, obviously). HOWEVER, more and more, I’m seeing people complain that there are not enough decent parent figures in books. And this is a fair criticism, because you know, not every parent has to be a totally useless douchbag. Yet there is something that can be said for lousy parents in books and there are plenty of reasons why this is a useful trope. So I’m gonna break it down today and talk about why sometimes it’s good to have bad parents in books:

stormbreakerIt can be plot expedient– I heard an author saying when I was younger that they always got the parents out of the way at the beginning so that children could have adventures- which I was a-okay with, cos I’m in favour of adventures. So yes, it may be ridiculous that somehow Alex Rider has managed to lose 3 parent figures, but at least that meant he was free to save the world (yes, said author was Anthony Horowitz).

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverThey provide a good foil for the hero– Let’s face it, we all love to hate villains. And what is more usefully positioned as a villain than a parent? They literally have access to where the hero sleeps, eats and can even control where they go to school. Think of all the added tension this provides! I mean, it was hard enough for Harry that he had to save the world from Voldemort, but every book had to deal with the Dursleys as well… Yikes- I’d pick Voldy any day 😉……………………………

City_of_Bones (1)It’s unsettling– of course “home” or “family” is *supposed* to be the safest thing in the world, yet revealing that the villain is none other than your father of all people can make the hero question everything. Are they still a good person? Were any of their positive memories real? Think of the trauma it created in Mortal Instruments when we find out that Valentine might have fathered not one, but two of our heroes (excusing the silly love triangle it created of course)

game of thrones book“Oh sympathy where have you gone…”– (three cheers if you know that song 😉 ) okay seriously though, where would be without the amount of sympathy that crappy parents instantly creates for the main character. Who can pretend like their sympathy for Samwell Tarley didn’t surge when we realised how bad his home life was in Game of Thrones. Realistically speaking, it’s easier for us as readers to sympathise with characters who have real problems, as opposed to the whiny self-obsessed heroine whose main concern is chipping a nail or who will take them to prom.

tuliptouchIt’s a fact of life– sure we’d like to believe every childhood is sunshine and kittens and rainbows, yet sadly too many children grow up in homes where abuse is the norm. Rather than normalising or encouraging these behaviours, having bad parents in books actually can provide comfort for children going through traumatic childhoods. It creates a sense that “you are not alone”. If we pretend like this is not a thing, we actually *do* risk normalising these behaviours, and ignoring the problem. As hard as sad as it is to acknowledge, books like Tulip Touch are true to some people’s experiences. So let’s not write children from abusive homes out of books, cos they do exist.

matildaIt can teach us all to be more empathetic– let’s face it, I will always champion books which can make us more empathetic to other people’s experiences. So even if a child has no point of reference for what it might be like to grow up in a negative home environment, books can be the gateway to understand different and difficult life experiences. Whether this is in realistic books, or stories like Matilda, we can identify the character traits and come to understand reality just that little bit more.

So do you agree or disagree? Do you think bad parents have a place in books? Let me know in the comments!

Ruining Childhoods Everywhere

A while back, I made a post where I casually pointed out that Roald Dahl was an anti-Semite. Now of course, there were people who didn’t think the quotes I linked to were offensive enough, so here’s a link to the top five most anti-Semitic things Dahl said and here’s one just to make things as clear as possible:

“I am certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic.”

At the time I did joke that I had ruined some people’s childhood, but this was far from my actual intention.

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You see, as someone who’s ethnically Jewish, I should be mortally offended by his statements and have no desire to read his work. Yet, I went into his books knowing a lot of these things about him. I’ve read countless books (many of them by favourite authors) who promote the blood libel or say things that make my skin crawl. And still, even as a book blogger, I actively endorse their work. Just the other day, I praised Dahl for his creepy writing.

In my personal opinion, I *don’t* think you should boycott books based on what the author believed. Of course, everyone is entitled to choose what they read and why, but to me this would be too much like cutting off my nose to spite my face. Especially when one considers how many people in history (and presently) that have some kind of prejudice. There is too much to learn to insist on being narrow minded just because other people are narrow minded.

This can be extended to reading books by people whose views I disagree with. True, some people’s personal beliefs might cloud their work, and it’s fair to take such biases into consideration. It’s even fair to debunk or debate every line of a book if we so choose. However, we can’t fight ideas we disagree with by burying our heads in the sand- these ideas exist whether we like them or not- we can’t relegate them to thought-crime penitentiaries simply by name calling. It’s not an effective argument and, ultimately, it’s not how we learn. Frankly, I want to be able to decimate arguments from people whose views I find repugnant (and yes, I’m talking about literal Nazis or Marxists or whatever else extremist-ist you can find). For this reason, I will not limit what I read because of who I am or what I believe.

Forgive me if I’m being repetitive, I know I’ve talked about such things before. This just happened to be something playing on my mind.

How Realistic Should Books Be?

CharlieMERKELEons and eons ago I read a post about how we *need* more bodily functions in books- now my first instinct was (naturally) “EWW”, quickly followed by “you need to read more books”. Let’s dispense with that myth right away, because bodily functions come up in books way more than you think, the most obvious example being its use in the satiric tradition. Everyone and their mother- from Horace to cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo- have used this technique at some point. Sorry to those writers who think this is the road to uniqueness, but this is nothing “new” or “EDGY” 😉

beautiful broken thingsYet this is just symptomatic of a wider issue. Because more and more I’m seeing books and art trying to replicate the most mundane parts of human existence. As I mentioned in my review of Beautiful Broken Things, there were far *too many* references to texting and social media squeezed in. Apart from being extremely dull, it served *no purpose* in the book. Which brings me to my first rule of thumb…

game of thrones bookFOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY (and unholy) don’t do this if you don’t have a reason. I’m never one to entirely close off any avenues when it comes to art- and this subject is no different. Thus WHEN IT SERVES A PURPOSE it is perfectly reasonable to include it. I mean, we can all think of how much grittier the death of a certain somebody is in Game of Thrones when they are dispatched whilst on the toilet. That shock factor killed it for me.

deenieIt’s therefore apparent that this can be a feature in some books, but authors really ought to know their genre. As I’ve already mentioned crude jokes easily fit into comedic subject matter, yet I do think this can be expanded out into other areas. Personally, when I was a teen I was very grateful for books by Judy Blume for educating me and normalising a lot of things I didn’t understand at the time.

the recruit cherubHOWEVER this should be used sparingly- and I mean SPARINGLY. It is way too easy for this trope to be overused- for instance, while it was funny the first time a major spy operation in the Cherub series was interrupted by someone’s inability to control their bladder, this quickly got overused and became an *insert we need a bit more drama* crutch for the plot. Not good.

my-bed-tracey-emin-011Gross gimmicks and the like should never be the sole focus of any piece of art. To my mind this merely debases the medium. It’s no secret at this stage that I am disparaging of some forms of modern art (#notall). I never argue that it’s not art- that would be as pointless as the art itself- only that it is poor versions of art. For art, good art, can be appreciated on multiple levels, whereas something like Tracy Emin’s bed is designed to shock and repulse you, which really takes little effort to achieve and has no depth of meaning.

judeOn the other end of the spectrum, one can take a look at the horrors of a book like Jude the Obscure. Many people would argue this also has shocking moments (don’t worry, no spoilers) but every single shock is woven into the story for a good reason. It is supposed to make you feel the plight of the poor, the constant injustices, the impossibility of bettering oneself. Yes, it is a book designed to make you feel shell-shocked, though not without just cause. No one could say this could be read on one level alone.

0787_07Still, as any fantasy lover knows, there are *plenty* of books which avoid any hint of the real world altogether and that is a-okay with me. Not all books are designed to be realistic and the ones that are don’t always need to scream its realism at us. Sometimes what we need from books is a touch of idealism. The Alexei Karamazov’s of the book world inspire us to be better; Michaelangelo’s Pieta’s lift us up out of our murky human existence to something resembling the divine. Art should be truer than the real world. Reducing it down to the basic necessities of life- and yes, weirdly enough, facebook and the like has become a part of that- gives us nothing as readers. Frankly, I know how to send/receive a text and most of us know how our body works- we don’t need reminding of these things all the time. Publishers, authors, readers take note- this is not a burning issue (if it is for you, please see a doctor).

Well, that was a subject I never thought I’d cover. I feel a little dirty now. What do you think? How real should books be? Let me know in the comments!

Why I’m Happy to Suspend My Disbelief for Fantasy

Magic systems seem to be a big deal to a lot of fantasy fans and for many a well explained system can make or break a book. Now, this may shock some people, but it really isn’t a big deal for me. Naturally, I appreciate the beauty of an intricate magic system (who doesn’t have infinite admiration for Sanderson’s allomancy for instance) but if something is left in broad terms or defined simply as *magic* I genuinely won’t care and here’s why:

confessionsIt is the genre of the unexplainable– *crazy* idea BUT there is a reason why many supernatural forces are left unexplained in fantasy. It creates an atmosphere of mystique, eeriness and unfathomability. Here is where fantasy is haunted by the hallmarks of gothic literature. Feeding into the uncanny plays with the unwritten rules of the universe and allows the writer to explore hidden corners of the human psyche. And isn’t exploring *what we don’t know* what fantasy is often all about? Obscuring the logic of a world is valuable in its own way.

simarillionSometimes, however, there is a hidden explanation, even if we don’t know it– I know I’ve seen *loads* of people criticising Lord of the Rings for its “lack” of magical explanations. My answer to those people is that there are plenty of Tolkien’s notes you can look into if you’re unsatisfied with the reasoning behind his world building. Which goes to show, just because you don’t know the reason for something, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Plus, if you need an origin story, look no further than The Simarillion. But really, ultimately, it’s important to note where Tolkien got his ideas from…

grimmsBorrowing from literary predecessors deserves praise not censor. Personally, I value stories that are self-aware and acknowledge where they’ve come from- for a story to revive its forefather’s memory and offer us something new is a very special thing. When it comes to fantasy, I’ve already mentioned fantasy’s connection with gothic literature, yet the modern genre has more than one forefather. It is very much rooted, thanks to Tolkien, in the oral tradition and fairy tales. There is a lot of borrowing going on between these genres, including the educational element. Following in the steps of fairy tales, supernaturalism is often far from the main message of the story. In reality…

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverMagic is often a tool to get us from a to b. A very beautiful, interesting tool- but a tool nonetheless. That’s why, there really is nothing wrong with the *because it’s magic* explanation. I know, I know, that’s an extremely unpopular opinion in the fantasy world and I will probably have my fantasy fangirl status revoked for saying it, but hear me out. The truth is, no matter how far you get under the skin of any given magic system, the answer at some point will always be *because it’s magic*. Most of the time, we see an elaborate system on the surface and do not question why it works. Yes, I know there are some people who are not satisfied with the Harry Potter world building, for all its wonder and intricacies, but really do those people seriously think that diverting the plot for a “scientific” explanation of witchcraft and wizardry would have made those books better? (I will stupefy! anyone whose answer is yes to that) We have the surface details and that’s all we need!

the martianAt the end of the day scientific discussions mean nothing to me. Yeahhh in case it isn’t obvious I am not a scientist and the mechanics of how things work rarely holds my attention. I did love the Martian, but that was in spite of the explanations (where, let’s be honest, my attention glazed over) not because of them. So if an author is going to go into a huge amount of detail about how their world works, it’s not going to light my fire, in fact…

The_Eye_of_the_World_UKI find overlong explanations or infodumps boring. There I said it. If a book goes on a long tangent explaining something *made up* to me that I really don’t need to know, I’m gonna get bored fast. Everyone that’s read my review of Eye of the World can’t be surprised by this- cos that’s the perfect example of exposition getting out of hand (no Robert Jordan, I don’t care if you came up with a really interesting backstory to some backwater village, if it’s not plot relevant now, I don’t need 5 pages of explanation).

question mark bookAnd finally… it would make me a hypocrite. Okay, so I don’t normally refer to my own writing, but I hope you don’t mind my self-indulgence here, cos it’s relevant. I try to write things I’d like to read- so a lot of the reasons I do not often include explanations is because of a combination of the above (ie it’s not always relevant in the moment, I hate infodumps and I like to borrow from other genres). But to give a more concrete example to how important hidden explanations are, I’m currently working on a trilogy where in book 1 magic is more of a blunt tool (because, bless their little hearts they don’t know any better), book 2 explores some of the costs, and book 3 (which I’ve started working on now) is all about the big reveals. It would fundamentally destroy the setup of the story if I’d just given everything away in book 1.

So those are my reasons for why I don’t get too bogged down with magic systems. I know this will divide readers- and that’s a-okay- different opinions are the spice of life! Let me know which you prefer!

Why I’m Happy to be Negative Sometimes

Hello all!! I’m feeling awfully chipper today cos I’m gonna be talking about negativity! Lately, I’ve been dropping a fair few negative posts, and that, together with your comments and an *amazing* post by Uptown Oracle, got me thinking… Why am I happy to be negative on my blog? Especially when so many people aren’t…

Well brace yourself, because I’m gonna deep dive into my monkey brain and tell you all why I put on my grouchy pants from time to time and why I’m willing to sling the odd banana peel at things I don’t like.

  1. I had to suffer through the book dammit! Consider this my very cheap form of therapy. If I suffered through 300+ pages of bilge and was made utterly miserable by a book, then you can be jolly well sure I’m gonna need to vent!!

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  1. Also, let’s be honest, it’s fun!! Nothing is more cathartic than a good rant- so of course I’m having fun writing these posts and I hope you’re enjoying reading them. Plus, you all get to laugh at my pain. And who doesn’t secretly take pleasure from that? 😉
  1. Honesty is key! I started my blog to share honest opinions about books and that (in my humble opinion) is the best way to have a positive experience and the key to any sort of success. I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s not always easily- some people will say the opposite, but anecdotally I can say my follower count takes a hit when I say something mean about some movie or book I don’t like- and as tempted as I am to follow after the person yelling “come back!” like Rose at the end of Titanic, I know that it’s for the best that I parted ways with someone who can’t take hearing a differing opinion. So I take it as a win anyway 😉 And while we’re on the subject of trust…

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  1. I’m gonna be blunt– I don’t trust purely positive reviewers- I just don’t. If I go on someone’s page and find nothing but a sea of stars, I’m gonna get suspicious. And if I read a negative review and then the person gives the book upwards of 4 stars, there’s no end to my suspicion! The only way you can trust that I’m giving all my bananas out fairly is if some books don’t get too many. Plus- I love my bananas and only give them away for a good reason- so if I’m giving a book 4-5 bananas it has to be well earned.

terry pratchett banana quote

  1. Besides, rating systems are on a scale for a reason. Books make me feel all sorts of emotions, ranging between AHHH THIS IS AMAZING to UGHHH THIS IS TERRIBLE- so naturally I need a system that reflects that. Talking numerically, if I refuse to go below 3*, I’ve suddenly skewed everything upwards and made 4* books average and now I can’t give 5* sparingly and… arghhh- do you see how confusing this is!? That’s why I have a clear system:

banana rating

  1. Even worse- without clear rating systems, the reader might be misled over whether it’s worth investing time and money in a book. Book reviewing serves a purpose and as much as we may hate to admit it, we *need* to discriminate against books sometimes, because (unfortunately) we don’t have money trees and as much as we would like to personally finance every author/publishing house/book shop on the planet, that is simply not possible. As it is I’m shopping on AbeBooks, scanning every amazon bargain and hopping over to the library once a week (highly recommended practices 😉 ) Contrary to popular belief, our tbr’s don’t just want to be fed all the time- they want to be starved a little as well (okay they’ll never go hungry- but maybe we should put them on a diet). The fact is, we’re not just reading reviews to have our own opinions confirmed or to hear how every single book is just excellent and we need to read it- we need to know whether we should read something or not. If there’s a reason I really shouldn’t be wasted my hard earned cash on something- I want to know about it. And if that means my tbr will get shorter, so much the better!

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  1. It’s a challenge! Call me crazy, but seeing a negative review for a book I love is like throwing down a gauntlet (and vice versa). It’s great to have perspectives challenged and see things from another point of view- and nothing makes you think more critically than seeing an opposing opinion. Naturally this doesn’t mean you have to agree with the reviewer- sometimes hearing someone’s arguments can actually help you bolster up your own views as you think of counter arguments and you can go away with your opinions intact- but this just shows it doesn’t hurt to hear another point of view, it can only help.

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So there you go- those are my reasons I’m happy to be a negative nancy from time to time. What do you think of sharing negative opinions? Let me know in the comments!